The province has opened the first primary care centre on Vancouver Island that’s led by nurse practitioners.

Called the Nexus Primary Care Clinic, the facility opened today in south Nanaimo.

“There was a line-up here when we came this morning,” said Kari Jonker, Nexus clinical care director and a nurse practitioner.

Yesterday Island Health held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and Nanaimo’s MLA, Sheila Malcolmson, toured the facility.

The number of nurse practitioners working across British Columbia has been increasing steadily since 2006. Their training includes diagnosing conditions, prescribing medication, and chronic disease management, and nurse practitioners can also attach to patients.

“In Nanaimo, I think the numbers are somewhere around 20,000 who don’t have a family doctor and our clinic will be able to attach over the course of three years to 6,800 patients,” said Jonker.

Adrian Dix, the province’s minister of health, says nurse practitioners are a fundamental part of the future of primary care. He said British Columbia has lagged behind most other provinces in using nurse practitioners but that’s about to change.

“The idea of a nurse practitioner-led clinic connected to a primary care network is an idea whose time has come. Nanaimo is the first site of this group of proposals but it’s not the last. nurse practitioners can do so much of the scope of practice of a doctor,” Dix said in a statement.

For people in Nanaimo, the Nexus Primary Care Clinic’s opening represents an opportunity that many of them they have waited years for.

“We are absolutely delighted,” said Meredith Morris, a Nanaimo resident. “I have a family of four and we’ve been without a family doctor for two years. We’re very happy to have nurse practitioners coming in.”

“We’ve been really worried because finding a family doctor is so hard so we’re just delighted,” said Lynne Fraser, another Nanaimo resident. “I really like the idea of a nurse practitioner. I’ve heard great things about them.”

The clinic is expected to employ 10 people by the end of the year.

Another nurse practitioner-led primary care facility will open on Vancouver Island within weeks.

Kendall Hanson